COLLEGE MEN'S HOCKEY: After first half, each NCHC team has a New Year's Resolution
GRAND FORKS—When the University of North Dakota men's hockey team gets back together Tuesday, Dec. 26, to prepare for the second half of the season, nobody will be missing.
Sure, head coach Brad Berry would prefer that Grant Mismash was playing at the World Junior Championships with Team USA, but the fact no UND player is at the under-20 event for just the second time in nine years isn't entirely a bad thing.
Berry will be able to tinker with line combinations and defensive pairings over break—something he plans to do just like last season when the staff moved Colton Poolman to the top defensive pairing with his brother, Tucker.
Berry also expects his whole team to be available to practice—something that hasn't happened since the first weekend of the season.
Because of injuries—and the search for more offense—UND hasn't used the same lineup in any two games yet this season.
"If you want to spend your holidays helping us to find those lines, you're more than welcome in our locker room," Berry joked. "We want to try to drill down on the tandems or the three guys in a group that can give us success on a daily basis.
"If you look at previous years, the national championship year we put Luke Johnson in the middle and we brought Rhett Gardner from fourth-line center to second-line left wing with (Austin) Poganski. The Heavy Line didn't come together until the second half of the year. So, we're trying to find a way to build some consistency in our forward groups."
The last time UND didn't have anyone at World Juniors was during the 2013-14 season. UND started the second half on a five-game unbeaten streak and made a run to the NCAA Frozen Four.
This year, having the full team back for two weeks of practice and a Saturday, Dec. 30, exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 team should help the coaching staff in their evaluations.
UND currently sits in second place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings and ranked No. 7 in the Pairwise Rankings—in position to make a run at a 16th-straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Here's a look at each NCHC team's first half: their biggest surprise and their New Year's Resolution.
St. Cloud State
Record: 12-2-1 (7-2-1 NCHC, 22 points)
Biggest surprise: A year after posting a team save percentage of .897, St. Cloud State goaltenders David Hrenak (.947) and Jeff Smith (.928) rank 1-2 in save percentage among NCHC goalies.
Random stat: St. Cloud State leads the nation in offense (4.27 goals per game), but is the only team in the NCHC or Big Ten without a single player who has registered 50 shots on goal. Every other team in those leagues has at least two players who have 50 shots on goal.
New Year's Resolution: Improve puck possession. Despite the great offensive output, St. Cloud State ranks nearly last in the NCHC in puck possession (49.1 percent Corsi). Improved puck possession means the Huskies won't need their goalies to post such fantastic save percentages.
Record: 10-5-5 (5-3-2 NCHC, 19 points)
Biggest surprise: Nick Jones had one goal in 29 games during his two-year stint at Ohio State. He has a team-high six goals at Christmas break for UND.
Random stat: UND is one of just seven teams in the country that has yet to score an empty-net goal this season.
New Year's Resolution: Up the offensive production. UND is undefeated this season when scoring more than one goal in a game (10-0-4). Unfortunately for the Fighting Hawks, they've been held to a single goal six times in 20 games.
Record: 10-4-4 (5-3-2 NCHC, 18 points)
Biggest surprise: Although Denver returned most of its defensive corps from last year's national title team, it's rookie Ian Mitchell who has filled the role as the power-play quarterback. He has 13 points in 18 games.
Random stat: The Pioneers are averaging just 7.72 penalty minutes per game, the fewest in the nation.
New Year's Resolution: Hold on to leads. Denver has lost four games this season. It led by three goals in three of them and led by two in the other.
Record: 10-8-1 (6-4 NCHC, 18 points)
Biggest surprise: After playing in just one game as a freshman, Dawson DiPietro has nine goals, 19 points and is the team's third-leading scorer.
Random stat: No fan base got to celebrate more goals at home than Western Michigan's. The Broncos lead the nation with 50 goals in their home building.
New Year's Resolution: Win on the road. Western Michigan has been predictably tough in Lawson Ice Arena (9-3-1), but has struggled away from it (1-5).
Record: 8-7-3 (3-5-2 NCHC, 12 points)
Biggest surprise: After finishing dead last in the NCHC in offense for the past four seasons, the Tigers have one of the league's most prolific lines in Mason Bergh, Nick Halloran and Trey Bradley.
Random stat: Alex Leclerc is one of two goalies in the NCHC (along with Miami's Ryan Larkin) who has played every minute in net for their team this season.
New Year's Resolution: Find depth scoring. Despite having two of the league's top six scorers (Bergh, Halloran), the Tigers have the NCHC's worst power play (16.3 percent) and rank seventh in overall scoring (2.78). That means others need to chip in a little more.
Record: 8-8-2 (3-4-1 NCHC, 10 points)
Biggest surprise: After a strong, 21-point freshman season, sophomore forward Gordie Green has already eclipsed that total this season, tallying 22 in the first half. He's the team's leading scorer.
Random stat: The RedHawks lead the nation with three extra-attacker goals this season—one came in Ralph Engelstad Arena to tie the game. They've also give up two.
New Year's Resolution: Get Kiefer Sherwood going. The explosive forward averaged more than a point-per-game last season, but he's averaging less than a half point-per-game this season and has a team-worst minus-7 rating
Record: 8-9-2 (3-7 NCHC, 9 points)
Biggest surprise: While drafted defensemen Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg got the preseason hype, it's rookie defenseman Scott Perunovich who is leading Duluth in assists (12), points (16) and plus-minus (plus-10).
Random stat: Although the Bulldogs have a losing record, they rank fifth in the nation and second in the NCHC in shot margin (plus-7.21).They are the only team ranked in the top nine nationally in shot margin to have a losing record.
New Year's Resolution: Improve specialty teams. The Bulldogs rank last in the NCHC in penalty kill (76.5 percent), sixth in power play (16.9) and last in special teams net (minus-6).
Record: 7-8-1 (2-6 NCHC, 6 points)
Biggest surprise: Sophomore forward Zach Jordan, who had one goal last season, ranks second on the team with eight goals at Christmas break.
Random stat: The Mavericks are blocking an average of 16.1 shots per game this season, third-most in the country and most in the NCHC.
New Year's Resolution: Find goaltending. Omaha ranks dead last in the country in team save percentage at .869.